Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! It’s been several months since I last posted here at The Bread Line, but this morning I felt the urge to write here again.

While this blog has been dormant (other than the ever-changing Twitter feed on the right side of the website), my other blog, The Midwest League Traveler, has been going strong. That where I chronicled my summer journey to the 16 Midwest League (Class A minor-league baseball) ballparks and continue to write about baseball-related topics. I’m in the process of writing a book about the ballparks and my experiences visiting them. My plan is to publish the book by the start of the next baseball season, and most nights I’m staying up late to work on it. If you haven’t done so already, I hope you will check out my work at The Midwest League Traveler and if you use Twitter, follow me at @MWLtraveler in addition to @thebreadline.

That brings me to what I’m thankful for this year. In addition to the usual stuff — you know what kind of stuff I mean — I am thankful for the opportunity to be pursuing my dream of writing a book and, in doing so, being able to combine my loves of baseball, road trips and writing. I’m thankful for all the support I’ve gotten from family, friends and even some strangers (people I hear from through the blog or Twitter, or whom I met at ballparks this year), but I’m especially thankful for the unwavering support of my wife, without whom my book project wouldn’t be happening.

Thanks for checking in at The Bread Line. While I rarely post here anymore because of my commitment to finishing my book and pushing it through my other blog and social media, I am glad you stopped here and read this.

Now it’s time to enjoy a turkey day cup of coffee. Have a happy and safe holiday, everyone.


As I noted in a post yesterday, today is the 5th anniversary of when then-Gov. Mitt Romney signed a universal healthcare bill into law for Massachusetts. But that’s not the only — or even the most important — anniversary of significance to be marked today.

Of course, the most significant is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. I began to commemorate the day this morning by dusting off my Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion II CD and playing it, beginning with the first track, “Civil War.” Then my wife and I hiked at Starved Rock State Park, where there weren’t many people today, giving us the opportunity to truly appreciate the solitude of nature and, at one point, reflect on how far we’ve come as a society since the Civil War — and even since the 100th anniversary 50 years ago.

You don’t need me to explain all that, but I do wish to take this time to mention a few Civil War-related books I’ve read or that are on my to-read list: Jay Winik’s “April 1865: The Month That Saved America” (about the final days of the Civil War and its immediate aftermath); James L. Swanson’s “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” and “Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse”; David O. Stewart’s “Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy”; Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”; and George B. Kirsch’s “Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime During the Civil War.”

If anyone has suggestions to add to my reading list, I’d love to hear them. Also, if you have any Civil War sites you recommend I visit between northern Illinois and Atlanta, Ga., during a road trip planned for later this year, I’d love to hear those, too.

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Today is also the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight (by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin) and the 30th anniversary of the American space shuttle program’s first flight. NASA celebrated by not giving one of the retiring space shuttles to Chicago’s Adler Planetarium — but at least the planetarium will get the flight simulator used by astronauts during their space training.

The four space shuttles were assigned to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum near Washington, D.C.; the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex near Orlando, Fla.; the California Science Center in Los Angeles; and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York.

I’ll also be visiting the Kennedy Space Center during my aforementioned road trip planned for later this year. Suggested stops in the TOM (Tampa-Orlando-Miami) triangle are welcome, too. (Baseball games and Everglades National Park are already on the agenda.)

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Finally, today is the 1-year anniversary of when the Chicago Cubs front office started its official Twitter feed, @CubsInsider. This isn’t very notable, except to illustrate a point.

Lately I’ve noticed a few people in my Twitter timeline mention that they’ve been on Twitter for a year now. I’m glad they’ve been on Twitter that long, but I’m not sure why they think the anniversary is a big deal. I’ve used Twitter since early 2009 — proudly ahead of the curve with this form of social media — but I don’t know what day I tweeted for the first time. Nevertheless, if you’re on Twitter and don’t already follow me, I hope you will change that! I’m @thebreadline.

My column from this week’s issue of Ottawa Delivered:

Earlier this week when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin helped kick off a series of Tea Party Express rallies leading up to the election, I couldn’t help but think back to my East Coast vacation earlier this month.

No, I didn’t immediately think of the gaudy-looking lighthouse restaurant with the “Ron Paul for President” sign in the window, though that soon crossed my mind, too. My first thought was of the Freedom Trail, the 2.5-mile walking trail that leads you to 16 nationally significant historic sites in Boston.

The Boston Tea Party is believed to have happened at old Griffin’s Wharf, which no longer exists because of a large-scale landfill project more than a century ago. A historical marker indicates where the wharf once was, but as you might expect, looking at a plaque isn’t quite as awe-inspiring as actually seeing the place as it was in 1773 and being able to – with a little imagination – visualize crates of tea being thrown off ships into the harbor.

Regardless, for someone like me who loves history and politics and has been to the East Coast only a handful of times, I’m still fascinated by simply visiting where events occured to form the cradle of our democracy. And my recent visit to Boston got me thinking about how the current tea party movement stacks up against the Boston Tea Party protest.

At its simplest, the comparison surely can be made. In 1773, future Americans were fed up with the ruling government, boarded ships and dumped all the tea in the water below. In 2010, a sizable number of Americans are fed up with the government, so they want to board Congress and dump all the incumbent politicians into the unemployment pool.

Both movements grew, too. Just as today’s tea party movement continues to grow, the Boston Tea Party spurred disgruntled future Americans to dump tea in other New England locales, including Maine, New York and North Carolina.

Taking the comparison a step further, it would seem that the connection between the two movements weakens. I assume most tea party supporters don’t favor literally overthrowing the government, as the Boston Tea Partiers obviously did.

And, while the current tea party movement surely will achieve a sense of victory next month – very few presidents survive their first midterm election with the same level of Congressional support they began with – nobody will be erecting memorials at key places in the 21st century tea party’s history. (“Look over here, Johnny. This is where Sarah Palin joked about seeing November from her house and sent the Tea Party Express on its way to victory.”)

Frankly, I expect the tea party movement to last about as long as Ross Perot’s Reform Party movement – which is to say, not very long in the grand scheme of things. Like the Reform Party before it, the tea party is burning hot but soon will burn out. This is not a criticism of the tea party, just an historically-based observation.

In any case, the tea party will leave its mark on our political history, at least for our lifetime. And when people want a true taste of dissident tea, they always can visit Boston.

Last month I finally got around to visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Ill. (I went on a behind-the-scenes media tour six months before the museum opened in April 2005, but that doesn’t really count because most of the exhibits weren’t in place yet.) All the exhibits and shows inside the museum are of high quality, but I was disappointed because there should have been more. Lincoln is one of the most written-about people in history, yet the ALPM is one of the least comprehensive presidential museums I’ve toured.

If you are an Illinois resident interested in visiting the museum, try to do so when your county will get you half off the $10 adult admission price. (Click here for details.) I suspect the museum is more impressive if you only have to pay $5 to get in the door.

In December 2006, I wrote a travel story for The Times about two other presidential museums I’ve visited. What follows is my take on the places commemorating the presidencies of Harry Truman and Gerald Ford.

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History buffs thirsting for presidental knowledge in the Midwest beyond the Land of Lincoln can get their fix in several surrounding states.

I recently visited two of the Midwest’s presidential museums: Harry S. Truman’s in Independence, Mo., and Gerald R. Ford’s in Grand Rapids, Mich. While I found both museums worth touring, what you’re probably thinking is true: Though the Truman museum covers the birth of the Atomic Age, it’s the Ford Museum that bombs in comparison.

Naturally, the Truman museum has a lot more source material to work with than the Ford museum. While the Ford presidency had a few memorable, if not controversial, moments, it was mostly forgettable. Upon Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, Truman inherited World War II and, ultimately, the decision whether to use an atomic bomb as a weapon of warfare.

During two terms as president, Truman also oversaw the Korean War and the start of the Cold War, witnessed the signing of the United Nations charter and was involved in negotiations to create the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Truman’s Fair Deal proposal called for, among other things, an increase in minimum wage and health insurance for all Americans, while his secretary of state, George Marshall, unveiled a plan that stimulated economic recovery in post-World War II Europe.

The United States also desegregated its military and recognized Israel as a country during the Truman presidency. So you see the museum’s planners had plenty to work with.

The Truman museum presents all this in an interactive fashion, making it less stale than a traditional “look, learn and move to the next artifact” museum, and probably more accessible to a society that collectively has an increasingly shorter attention span.

The first of the interactive displays is about the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Video monitors show footage of the fighting on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and audio clips of Truman and others discussing the decision to use the atomic bombs.

Visitors to the Truman museum also have the opportunity to weigh in on the discussion via a comments book. I don’t know what ultimately happens to those comments — maybe they’re stored in a back room for historical purposes — but it is a nice touch to the museum, and it’s interesting to flip back through previous pages to read what others had to say about this controversial issue.

Throughout the museum there are other video displays with footage from Truman’s presidency. Two in particular stood out for me. One was Truman’s farewell speech to the nation, played on a monitor shaped like a 1950s-era television. The other was a montage of commercials and TV show intros from the ’50s, providing a glimpse of (or a look back at, depending how old the viewer is) what televised entertainment was like in the heyday of “I Love Lucy.”

There also is an interactive display that quizzes visitors on what they learned at the Truman museum, in the lower level where the former president’s personal life and early years in politics are chronicled.

All things Truman in Independence, Mo., are not limited to the presidential museum. After leaving the White House in 1953, Truman retired to Independence, where he resided until his death in December 1972. Although the retired president was easily Independence’s most recognized citizen, he was seen walking around town almost daily.

The city capitalized on this in the 1990s, creating the Truman Historic Walking Trail. There are some curiosity stops along the way, such as the home where Truman and his wife, Bess, lived in retirement, the Jackson County Courthouse where Truman presided as a judge, and the barber shop where he got his hair cut.

The Ford Presidential Museum pales in comparison to the Truman museum, though that’s not really unexpected, since Ford’s presidency pales in comparison to Truman’s, too.

Still, the Ford museum is worth checking out, although it may dredge up some bad memories about how Ford came to power in the Oval Office.

One of the more interesting things to be found at the Ford museum are the tools used in the Watergate break-in, an unexpected treat considering I (and many others, I’m sure) thought those would be in the Nixon Presidential Museum or a police evidence locker somewhere collecting dust. The tools are a nice kickoff to an interactive display chronicling Ford’s rise to power. There are plenty of documents to read and footage of TV news coverage to watch.

The most interesting parts of the Ford museum deal with the 38th president’s decision to pardon Richard Nixon, his offer of amnesty to draft dodgers, his role in the Warren Commission’s investigation into the Kennedy assassination, and America’s bicentennial, which came and went during Ford’s presidency.

Probably the most fascinating artifact in the museum, though, comes from Vietnam and is in an exhibit about the fall of Saigon. If you’ve ever seen news footage of when Americans and some Vietnamese refugees escaped to helicopters using a staircase atop the U.S. embassy in Vietnam — well, you can see the actual staircase in the Ford museum now.

I was alive when Saigon fell, but am too young to remember anything about it firsthand. I do remember the Berlin Wall coming down, though, and there are a couple chunks of that on display at the Ford museum, too.

For children there’s an interactive cabinet room where they can take a quiz about what they learned at the Ford museum. For adults, there’s a display about Betty Ford’s alcoholism.

And for those looking for the Ford Presidential Library — it’s in Ann Arbor, Mich. It’s the only case in which a former president’s museum and library are not on the same grounds.

One of the cooler things about Twitter is the potential for useful interactivity between people who follow each other. For example, one of my followers is vacationing in Maryland and asked his followers for baseball-related ideas in that area. That prompted me to send him a link to a Baltimore baseball travel story I wrote last year (published in The Times), which I am now sharing with all of my Bread Line readers, just in case any of you are planning a trip to that area.

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Ever since Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992, baseball fans have heard the retro ballpark is one of the best stadiums in which to see a game.

I wouldn’t go as far to say that, but the Baltimore Orioles ballpark is attractive and worth visiting, especially if you add a couple of nearby baseball museums to your trip’s itinerary. The small but interesting Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum is only two blocks from Camden Yards, and the Sports Legends Museum is even closer.


Camden Yards is a nice place to watch a ballgame, but I wasn’t bowled over by its beauty.

I suppose I was expecting baseball heaven after hearing for 15 years that it is the next best thing to classic old ballparks like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. And Camden Yards has nothing on Wrigley Field, a true baseball mecca with unique characteristics like outfield ivy and a hand-operated scoreboard.

It also doesn’t help that since Camden Yards opened to much fanfare, more than a dozen other “retro” ballparks have been built and therefore blunted the awe factor of the Baltimore ballfield. I’ve visited some of the other retro stadiums, so after I finally made it to Camden Yards last season, it didn’t seem too special. I probably would have felt differently had I visited the park in 1992.

That being said, I found the area just outside the ballpark charming. Some of the newer stadiums have these nearby “ballpark villages” — one is in the works across the street from the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis — so as to manufacture a fan-friendly area akin to Wrigleyville. In Baltimore, this concept really works. Located just beyond the outfield wall, there are markers scattered throughout the walkway indicating where long home runs landed. They can be fun to look for, as long as you don’t get trampled when you stop to read them.

The ballpark village includes small gift shops and places to eat, most notably Orioles legend Boog Powell’s barbecue stand. The cost of food there is a bit more than the going rate for eats inside the ballpark, but where else can you get served by a former first baseman and fan favorite (and get an autograph if you’re lucky)?

The ballpark village entrance includes a statue of a young Babe Ruth and large silver numbers representing those worn by Orioles greats such as Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Frank Robinson.

Seven years after Ripken retired, the numbers representing his record amount of consecutive games played still hang from the warehouse facade next to the ballpark village and are clearly visible from inside Camden Yards.


The reason New York Yankees great Babe Ruth gets a statue outside Camden Yards is because the former all-time home run king was born and raised in Baltimore. In fact, he was born just a few blocks away from the Orioles’ ballpark.

The Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum is worth walking the short distance to visit. The place is small but makes the most of its space. There is furniture from Ruth’s family (including the bed where the future slugger was born in 1895) and numerous collectibles and memorabilia associated with the Sultan of Swat, such as a catcher’s mitt he used while living at St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, an orphanage and reformatory.

What I found most interesting in the museum is the small alcove dedicated to the 23 (now 25) players who hit more than 500 home runs during their careers. Jerseys, bats and baseballs autographed by many of these men are on display.


Closer to Camden Yards is the Sports Legends Museum, which almost literally is just a stone’s throw away from the stadium. This museum does not exclusively cover baseball. In addition to an Orioles wing, there is memorabilia from football’s old Baltimore Colts team (with a special section devoted to Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas) and current Baltimore Ravens team, the city’s indoor soccer team and Maryland collegiate stars. Also included are looks at the city’s association with the Negro Leagues and minor-league baseball.

Not being a Marylander, this museum didn’t appeal much to me, but there is a reduced admission price available for those who also visit the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum.

Happy Canada Day! July 1 is when our neighbors to the north annually celebrate their heritage and commemorate the anniversary of their country achieving independence from British rule. It also is a day that always reminds me of the best road trip I ever took, a 16-day journey that covered more than 6,000 miles (and included celebrating Canada Day in Canada).

This year is the fifth anniversary of that road trip. Earlier today, I read the travel piece I wrote about the trip for the newspaper I worked for at the time, the Streator Times-Press. As you might imagine, it is a lengthy article, but rereading it brought back lots of memories for me: seeing bison and wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, searching for graham crackers in Moose Jaw, watching fireworks in Canada on Canada Day and in America on Independence Day, wearing shorts while having a snowball fight on a mountaintop on July 4, encountering two black bears while hiking at Glacier National Park in Montana, the melancholy feeling of leaving Denver as we started the long drive home, and so much more.

What follows is my published account of the road trip — the first travel story I ever had published.

* * *

This summer, I set out with my friend Isaac on that great American rite of passage – a cross-country trek in the spirit of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Afflicted with national park fever after a trip to the South Dakota badlands last year, this time we planned a grand-scale, two-week journey including the North Dakota badlands, Calgary, the Canadian Rockies, Glacier National Park in Montana, Salt Lake City, Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks in Utah, Colorado, and more. 

In the beginning, perhaps this seemed, at best, wishful thinking, or, at worst, ridiculously insane. After all, the idea was to drive more than 6,000 miles in 16 days through 10 states and three Canadian provinces. But in the end, with plan adjustments along the way, we pulled it off, experiencing the adventure of a lifetime.

The badlands

Anxious to reach our first destination as soon as possible, we set a lofty goal for ourselves to drive all the way to the North Dakota badlands by the end of Day 1. This meant leaving Rockford (where Isaac lives) by 4 a.m. and spending almost the entire day in the car.

Of course, we made occasional stops to stretch and break up the monotony of the road, most notably in Fargo, N.D., and Bismarck, N.D. Fargo is a nice-looking city undergoing a downtown revitalization. Bismarck, on the other hand, was quite disappointing, looking pretty rundown for a state capital.

We reached Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which showcases the North Dakota badlands, about 17 hours after our initial departure time. We set up camp a few miles south of Medora, an Old West-style town located outside the south entrance to the national park, just off Interstate 94.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is divided into two main sections, a south unit and a north unit, located about 70 miles apart. Because neither unit is huge and both have paved scenic drives, it is easy to go through the entire park in one or two days, depending on how quickly you choose to do so.

We spent only one full day at the park, starting with the 36-mile scenic loop drive in the south unit. There are plenty of overlooks allowing visitors to scope the strangely-shaped, multicolored landscape, obscured in some areas by cottonwood trees, juniper bushes and other vegetation.

The colors of the badlands are much more pronounced in the north unit, making it the more attractive of the two sections. Still, the south unit has several areas worth seeing. Of particular note is Scoria Point, which appears to “bleed” a deep-reddish bricklike color called scoria. A walk along the Coal Vein Trail reveals badlands trimmed with lines of black coal that look like arteries running through the hillsides.

The Wind Canyon Trail is steep in spots but well worth the short hike. From atop the canyon, carved over time into smooth shapes by sandblasting winds, you get a beautiful view of a long oxbow curve in the Little Missouri River. Unfortunately, during the summer months, the Little Missouri usually isn’t very deep in this area, so there isn’t much riverflow to see. There was a herd of bison to be seen in the distance, though.

In the southeast part of the park is Painted Canyon, which offers the best overview of the badlands from atop a grassy plateau. The park’s north unit is about an hour north of Painted Canyon via nearby Highway 85.

Overall the north-unit badlands are more scenic because there is less vegetation obstructing one’s view of the bands of color marking layers of silt and sediment in the craggy hills. Resembling the South Dakota badlands, these buttes and canyons include hues of purple, blue, black, red and beige.

The north unit’s scenic drive lasts about 15 miles one way, ending at Oxbow Overlook, where there’s another great overview of the badlands. A stop along the way, the River Bend Overlook, showcases the curves in the Little Missouri River caused by glaciation.

A unique part of the north unit is Battleship Butte, where numerous cannonball concretions were unearthed by erosion. Cannonball concretions are large spheres formed by groundwater minerals cementing sandstone together inside layers of sediment. While the sediment layers eroded over time, the hardened spheres remained intact, leaving some sticking out butte sides and others completely exposed at ground level. As the name indicates, the spheres look like giant cannonballs.

These characteristics of the badlands can be seen closer up by hiking on any of the numerous marked trails in the park. One path we particularly enjoyed was the Caprock Coulee and Upper Caprock Coulee trails, which join to form a loop about six miles long. The Caprock Coulee Trail runs alongside a towering butte before meeting the Upper Caprock Coulee Trail, which takes hikers up a sometimes-steep path to the top of a scenic plateau. The night sky arrived before we reached the top of the plateau, giving us a clear view of thousands of stars.

Oh, Canada

On Day 3 we drove north on Highway 85 toward Canada, reaching the border around noon. Knowing we wouldn’t reach the Canadian Rockies that day, we took the suggestion of a Weyburn woman and camped overnight in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, which is located along the border between Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Driving through Saskatchewan was very similar to driving through southern Illinois – a lot of farmland dotted by the occasional small community. A bigger community of note along Trans-Canada Highway 1 is Moose Jaw, which earned the nickname “Little Chicago” due to the underground tunnels used by bootleggers during Prohibition. Today the tunnels are marketed as a tourist attraction where guides tell stories of Al Capone’s gang hiding in Moose Jaw to avoid United States law enforcement agents.

Cypress Hills has two lakes, rolling grasslands and forest, but most notable is Bald Butte, the highest point in Saskatchewan (4,816 feet). From Bald Butte you can literally look back in time, as Alberta is an hour behind Saskatchewan.

By nightfall on Day 4 we reached the Canadian Rockies, setting up camp on the outskirts of Banff National Park. About an hour east of Banff is Calgary, where we spent some time exploring the city that hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics.

After driving through flatlands and tiny hamlets all day, seeing the Calgary skyline was a welcome reminder of civilization. A notable landmark for tourists is the Calgary Tower, where one can ride an elevator to the top for a bird’s-eye view of the city below and the mountains in the distance. We skipped the tower since heavy cloud coverage made visibility poor.

We still managed to get a good view of the skyline from a south side hill we discovered by sheer luck. From there we saw the Pengrowth Saddledome, home stadium of hockey’s Calgary Flames, and Stampede Park, where the annual Calgary Stampede is held.

Calgary impressed me as a place worth checking out over a period of days, not hours, but we didn’t have the time to do that. We still had a lot of mountain hiking ahead of us.

Canadian Rockies

We spent the next five days exploring the Canadian Rockies through four national parks clustered together: Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay. Because of its location along Trans-Canada Highway 1, Banff is the most visited of the four parks. Banff and Jasper are much bigger and more scenic than Yoho and Kootenay, but there certainly are sights worth seeing in the smaller parks as well.

If you spend several days in the area as we did, it’s economical to buy an annual parks pass for $50 (Canadian) because there are countless things to do there.

Being my first time in the mountains, I was completely awed by the scenery. Although we were in Canada, I finally understood what Katherine Lee Bates meant when she wrote of purple mountains’ majesty in “America the Beautiful.”

Over the next few days we hiked up, beneath and between mountains, viewed beautiful turquoise-colored lakes and long winding rivers, walked on a glacier, and saw wildlife galore. It was the experience of a lifetime.

The recreational options are too numerous to list, so I’ll just mention a few highlights. We stuck mainly to mountain hiking, but many visitors also choose to go fishing, skiing or golfing.

If you’re itching to hike up a mountain, Sulphur Mountain near Banff Town is a great option. It takes at least two hours to reach the summit, which is nearly 7,500 feet above sea level and offers an exceptional view of the surrounding mountain range. From that elevation, Banff Town and the nearby Bow River look like they’re part of a model railroad setup.

There is a steady flow of visitors to the top of Sulphur Mountain because of the Banff Gondola, which transports riders to the summit in eight minutes. You only pay for the ride to the summit, so hikers can ride down for free.

At the summit there’s an observational terrace, two restaurants, a snack bar, and of course, a gift shop. There’s also the cosmic ray station where scientific observations were made for the Canadian government in the early 1900s.

Many lakes in the Canadian Rockies are strikingly turquoise-colored from a combination of minerals and glacial melt. Lake Louise in Banff National Park is the most famous one thanks to the resort overlooking it. As a result, Lake Louise is not the place to go when searching for solitude. Nearby Moraine Lake is less crowded and has a better trail system, including a backcountry path leading to secluded Consolation Lake. All three lakes have mountainous backdrops.

Linking Banff and Jasper national parks is the Icefields Parkway, considered one of the most scenic roadways in Canada. I agree. The 143-mile highway lies along the Continental Divide, surrounded by countless mountain peaks, glaciers, lakes, rivers and waterfalls. It’s also a good area to see wildlife, like the brown bear cub we spotted grazing along the road.

Marking the border between Banff and Jasper is the Columbia Icefield, which measures 87 square miles and covers several mountain peaks. The most visible part of the icefield is the Athabasca Glacier, which is accessible via guided tour. A vehicle resembling a bus with giant tractor tires transported us to the edge of the glacier, where we were allowed to disembark and walk around for 10 minutes.

Noting several streams of surface melt running down the ice, our guide said the glacier water is the cleanest found on earth and encouraged us to sample it. Sure enough, the water looked and tasted pure – and was also very cold.

The most intriguing part of walking on the glacier was our proximity to a peak that pours water runoff into rivers leading to three different oceans: the Pacific, the Arctic and the Atlantic. Thinking about how far the Columbia Icefield’s surface melt travels somehow made the scale of our road trip seem a little bit smaller.

Glacier National Park

We returned to the United States on Day 9 of our trip. It was July 4 and we wanted to celebrate Independence Day on American soil, so we headed down to Glacier National Park in Montana. We watched fireworks over Whitefish Lake, near Glacier. (Incidentally, we watched Canada Day fireworks in Calgary three days earlier. Comparing the two shows, it seems we Americans like to pack a lot more fireworks into our displays than the Maple Leafers.)

We set up camp near Bowman Lake in the northwest section of the park. It’s a long drive to Bowman Lake from the park’s west entrance, and much of the road is unpaved. However, if you’re looking for a secluded campground with a quiet, scenic lake surrounded by mountains, Bowman is the way to go.

We were told that fishermen love Bowman Lake because relatively few people go there. Serious naturalists also enjoy the lake because bald eagles nest around it and can be seen scanning the waters for fish. We took advantage of the lake’s tranquility by rafting to the middle of the lake and spending a couple hours floating in the calm waters.

We spent much of Day 10 on and around Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile stretch of highway across Glacier via the Continental Divide. This road, especially at Logan Pass (6,646 feet above sea level), is surrounded by spectacular vistas of mountains, valleys, rivers and waterfalls. I imagine the scenery is even more spectacular in autumn after the leaves have changed colors.

Going-to-the-Sun Road is bookended by two long lakes. St. Mary Lake is on the east end of the byway; Lake McDonald is on the west end. The pristine-looking Lake McDonald is the park’s largest lake, measuring 10 miles long and 472 feet deep.

The Hidden Lake Nature Trail is a neat sidetrack from the road. The three-mile roundtrip hike begins behind the Logan Pass visitor center. The trail begins on a boardwalk but eventually you’re just walking on ice and snow. A lot of people turn around at the end of the boardwalk, but those who venture beyond are treated to a mountainside lake hidden from view until they’re practically on top of it. The lake is surrounded by an interesting blend of snow, grass and wildflowers, and if you’re lucky, you might see a mountain goat on a nearby ledge.

We spent the next day in the Many Glacier section of the park. We saw an abundance of wildlife during a hike to Ptarmigan Lake, including numerous bighorn sheep, a golden eagle perched in its nest, and two black bears eating berries near the trail. Fortunately the bears ignored us and we survived to tell the tale of our close encounter. (Click here to read my account of our bear encounter.)

The only drawback to Glacier National Park is there aren’t many glaciers to see. Jackson Glacier is the most visible one from Going-to-the-Sun Road, but it might not be there 25 years from now. Scientists estimate the rapidly melting Montana glaciers could all be gone by 2030.


On Day 12 we woke up early and headed south toward Salt Lake City. We stopped in a few Montana communities, including Helena, where we checked out the state capitol building, and a small fishing town called Craig, located along the Missouri River. We ate a late dinner in Idaho Falls and spent the night at a hotel near Salt Lake City.

Day 13 began with a too-quick look around Salt Lake City. We spent only an hour there because we had five more to drive before reaching our next destination: Zion National Park.

Zion is located in the southwest corner of Utah, practically in Arizona. This region of the state gets rather hot during the summer months, quite different from the cooler temperatures we experienced in the mountains.

Zion is filled with vividly colored cliffs and canyons painted in red and orange hues. There’s also a desert swamp, a petrified forest, a minor waterfall, and the Virgin River. There’s a narrow canyon pass where the Virgin River is shallow enough to wade across safely.

Hiking is encouraged, but you have to ride a shuttle to most of the trailheads. That’s because visitors are no longer allowed to drive through the park due to traffic congestion problems.

More impressive than Zion was Bryce Canyon National Park, which we visited on Day 14. Bryce Canyon is filled with hoodoos – oddly shaped pillars of rock shaped by erosion. The hoodoo spires are brightly colored in various shades of pink, orange and red. Like clouds, no two hoodoos are shaped the same, leaving one’s mind to imagine each spire resembles something different.

The best overall views in Bryce Canyon are at Sunrise and Sunset points. Both places are elevated above much of the park, allowing one to see miles of hoodoos in a single gaze.

We spent just two days in southern Utah – far too little time to appreciate all the scenery there. In addition to Zion and Bryce Canyon, there are three other national parks in the immediate area: Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches. Each supposedly is as scenic as the others, and a nature buff could easily spend a whole week in the area.

Heading home

All good things must come to an end, and our road trip was no exception. As the sun began to drop on Day 14, we began the long drive home, with just two more stops planned in Colorado.

Interstate 70 took us straight through the heart of Colorado, running alongside old Route 6, the cross-country road made famous by Kerouac. We skirted Eagle and saw the ski slopes of Vail, but didn’t stop until we reached Georgetown. There we exited onto Colorado State Highway 5, which would lead us nearly to the summit of Mount Evans.

Highway 5 is commonly known as the Mount Evans Byway, the highest paved road in North America. The road reaches an elevation of 14,130 feet, at which point you can park your vehicle and walk up the final 134 feet to the summit. It costs $10 per vehicle to travel the road, but believe me, the view from atop one of Colorado’s tallest mountains is well worth the money.

We spent a few hours on Mount Evans before heading to Denver. We spent a few hours in Denver, didn’t want to leave, but knew we had to because vacation would be over soon. 

We spent our last night on the road in North Platte, Neb. Just as the kindhearted folks here in Streator did, North Platters banded together to organize a canteen for soldiers traveling through town on their way to joining the fighting in World War II. In a way, that historical tidbit made me feel like I was already home.

On the final day we spent 12 more hours on the road, passing through Omaha, Des Moines, and a lot of farmland. As we drove through the Quad Cities, the mighty Mississippi River welcomed us back to Illinois, a sure sign our road trip was ending.

At that point, adrenaline pumped through my veins as I eagerly anticipated a comfortable bed at the end of the road. After driving more than 6,000 miles, a good night’s rest tops the itinerary of things to do upon returning home. Then, the next morning, it’s time to start sorting through all the memories picked up along the way.

Memories to last a lifetime.

Earlier today my wife and I recalled the weekend road trip we took to St. Louis last summer, which prompts me to share the following travel story I wrote for The Times. I made a couple minor changes to it, adding a reference to the Obama pizza controversy and subtracting a paragraph about a special exhibit that was at the Old Courthouse last summer when the article was published.

* * *

The Gateway Arch. Busch Stadium, home of baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals. The Anheuser-Busch Brewery, where Budweiser beer is made.

Those are some places that immediately come to mind when thinking about things to see in St. Louis. But if a trip to the Gateway City is in the cards, there are some lesser-known places worth checking out as well.

One place I was pleased to discover was Forest Park, which really is one of the city’s crown jewels. Comprised of 1,371 acres in the heart of St. Louis, Forest Park is home to the St. Louis Zoo (which doesn’t charge admission), the St. Louis Art Museum (housed in one of the few remaining buildings constructed for the 1904 World’s Fair), a conservatory, a fountain and lake, the St. Louis Science Center (a planetarium), a memorial to Thomas Jefferson and lots of space for leisurely walks.

Of course, it is impossible to visit St. Louis and not see the Gateway Arch. Even if you don’t want to wake up early to stand in line for tickets for the tram ride to the top, the Gateway Arch is still a beauty to behold from below.

A few blocks from the Gateway Arch is the Old Courthouse, where the Dred Scott case originated. The 19th-century courthouse is no longer in use as a justice center, but is open to the public to see the decorated interior dome and numerous displays covering the history of St. Louis.

About a block away from the Old Courthouse is Kiener Plaza, which features small fountains and a manmade waterfall. A statue called The Runner is placed to appear as if someone is running over the fountains in Kiener Plaza. Here, there is a great photo opportunity. Stand by the waterfall and look back at The Runner to see the statue in front of the Old Courthouse with the Gateway Arch behind it.

There are lots of restaurants to choose from in this area. My recommendation is Caleco’s, which is close to the Old Courthouse and Kiener Plaza. Caleco’s is popular for its St. Louis-style pizza, which basically is the opposite of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. The crust of a St. Louis-style pizza is cracker-thin and the tomato sauce is sweet, giving the pie a unique taste I haven’t had elsewhere. But if you wish to stick to deep-dish pizza, apparently it is very good at Pi, a Delmar Loop neighborhood restaurant that President Barack Obama asked to cater a White House dinner last month. Being a Chicagoan, Obama surely knows good deep-dish pizza when he tastes it.

Another place worth checking out, especially if out at night in St. Louis, is Laclede’s Landing, simply referred to as “The Landing” by locals. The nine-block area along the Mississippi River once housed various industrial companies that sent their wares across the country via barges, but now it is home to a bunch of restaurants, sidewalk cafes and outdoor beer gardens. There are plenty of gift shops there as well for those who want to visit during the day and avoid the nightlife.

Photos by Craig Wieczorkiewicz
The view from inside the St. Louis Cardinals ballpark has improved since the new Busch Stadium opened three years ago. Now downtown St. Louis, including the Gateway Arch, can be seen beyond the outfield wall.

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